At first Will had wondered whether anyone would notice Kirjava in their new life. It was a small, idle question, in a period when his life was as filled with questions as it had ever been. But people didn't seem to see her. For a long time, Will wasn't sure if people - at least, people from his world, who’d never heard of daemons - could perceive her, or if she simply had his knack for blending in. Either way, there were no problems when she was with him around his school, or when he set her to keep a watchful eye on his mum, which was just as well.
Mary had done him and his mum a hell of a good turn. She'd convinced the headmaster of his school to take him back despite his truancy, claiming that she was a long-lost friend of his father's who would be a good influence on Will, and that his troubles would soon resolve. A similar story, about Mary being his long-lost guardian, had worked on Mrs. Cooper, though she had been a little doubtful. Only Alan Perkins, his father’s lawyer, knew too much to fall for that charade. Will and Mary would have to find something else to tell him, when it became absolutely necessary to contact him again. When they did, Mary would think of something, and Will would back her up, like a dutiful child with his guardian.
Mary was proving to be almost as gifted as Lyra. Her stories had saved Will and his mum on many occasions, and he thought of Lyra’s boasting each time: I’m the best liar there ever was. The memory would bring a tightness to Will's throat, and Kirjava would leap into his arms, purring the way cats sometimes purred to comfort themselves when they were hurt or dying.
Still, the family - Will, his mother, and Mary - had had a run of luck that Will would never have expected. The police had bungled investigating the murder that had sent Will fleeing to a different world. They'd convinced themselves it was a routine burglary gone wrong, and had said as much to Will and his mother, along with some patronizing platitudes about how lucky it was that they were visiting a family friend when it happened. Will's mother had been confused and fidgety during the interview. Her behaviour - or, rather, Will’s fear that the police would realize she was off - had made his hair prickle. Old habits died hard, after all. But even in a small town, the police had more to worry about than confused middle-aged women. They were safe, somehow.
They were even safe from Sir Charles Latrom. Mary had told Will that her college and, perhaps, the authorities had investigated the late Sir Charles, and found him wanting on closer inspection.
“It didn’t look good for Oliver,” Mary had said, beaming, and getting that breathless, excited tone in her voice. “I mean, my colleague, Oliver Payne. In fact, the whole business with Sir Charles almost ended up exonerating me. Of course I had to act as if I'd had a sort of breakdown from stress.” Her dark eyes had sparkled mischievously. “My department head looked into the matter, when I wiped the computer with all our research. He had to. It was terribly embarrassing, and he must have thought -” She had shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure, actually, but he was upset about Oliver turning the project over to Sir Charles without so much as a phone call to the Research Partnerships team. They take that sort of thing seriously at universities; at least, they’re supposed to. Anyway, he thought that’s what triggered my ‘breakdown,’ as it were. We physicists have a poor reputation, and the - the stranger your work gets, the stranger people think you are. Spooky physics and all that - not that anyone knows the half of it.”
She'd laughed then, but Will didn’t laugh much these days - not that he ever had.
“But Chris - well, Dr. Witt, the head - wasn't as gullible as most people. Apparently, Sir Charles's credentials in this world didn't hold up quite as well as he threatened. Dr. Witt thought his throwing money around was suspicious. I think he realized Sir Charles was some sort of spy, even if he didn’t know who he was working with - terrorists, maybe, or someone in the former Soviet Bloc. It wasn’t easy, convincing Dr. Witt to give me another chance, but he was sympathetic. He said it was almost understandable, when Oliver wanted to turn my work over to military application, and to a fraud who just appeared out of nowhere.”
So Mary, at least, had landed on her feet. It was good news, all of it, yet Will found it hard to be as cheerful as Mary was. He must have scowled or at best nodded stonily instead of smiling, because Mary knit her brows together in worry. Kirjava needled Will with one of her claws.
“Is something the matter?” Mary asked.
Will smiled at last.
“No,” he'd said. Mary wasn’t convinced, but she didn't push him. She tried to be understanding like that. She was; she was a tremendous help to him and his mum, only, he was so used to keeping himself to himself. And it made his and Lyra’s fear of Sir Charles seem rather trivial, didn't it? If a college bureaucrat could see right through him, why hadn’t Will and Lyra? Why hadn’t they outsmarted him before sacrificing so much for the knife? But the knife had saved Lyra, and freed the souls of the dead, and made possible so many fantastic, terrible things…
Those were, of course, the kind of thoughts that made Will’s head ache and his stomach sink. The grief of losing Lyra and his father and of being mutilated - thanks in large part to Sir Charles's threats - was too fresh in his mind for him to do much else.
“I thought he had contacts in the police and everything,” Will added, after a few silent moments. “He had people chasing after Lyra - police officers. You said he had police or some type of security around the door in Sunderland Avenue, too.”
Mary bit her lip before replying.
“Well, I don’t know everything,” she said, eventually, “but I don’t think Oliver Payne’s the only person who landed in hot water over Sir Charles. Dr. Witt implied that there was some larger investigation into Sir Charles’s influence after he disappeared, something larger than what my college could do. Perhaps the police themselves realized there was something wrong with him, or even some outright bribery.”
It wasn’t a very satisfying answer. Regardless, Will let the matter drop, and found an excuse to go up to his room.
“You know how important it is, though,” Kirjava said to him once they were alone.
“What is?” Will asked. His daemon settled gracefully on his small, battered bookcase, and flicked her tail.
“Don't play dumb,” she said. “It doesn't suit you.”
Will sighed. “I’m not. I don't know what you mean.”
He had a feeling he might, though. Kirjava twitched again.
“About Sir Charles,” she said. “About him not being as powerful and as well-connected here as he wanted us to think. The fewer ghosts that can come back to haunt us, the better.” Her eyes narrowed to slits, focused and determined. “It doesn't matter if our pride’s been hurt.”
Will felt, or imagined that he felt, that familiar throbbing in his hand.
“More than our pride,” he snapped. Then he softened. The strangeness of arguing with Kirjava - of having her manifest to argue with, or to talk to at all - had struck him again, as it sometimes did. He reflected almost academically that he’d been angry with himself. At least, this was what he would have called being angry with himself, or being of two minds about something, back when Kirjava was just a voice in his brain, as people's daemons were in his world.
She left her perch and flowed into his lap in one liquid movement, purring and nuzzling his maimed hand.
“I know,” she said. “But we are safer than we would have thought. Mum's safer. Even if he made us do things because we were more afraid than we had to be, that’s all in the past now. The most important thing is going forward.”
Going forward. Of course it was important - Will’s mum needed him, and it wasn’t in him to lie down and give up, no matter how bad things got. But leading any kind of normal life was almost as muddled as his adventures had been, or as his life alone with his mother was before he left. His teachers and headmaster hadn’t fully believed him about his hand. He and Mary had said he’d lost his fingers in a car accident, but despite Mary’s best efforts, the school wanted him to report regularly on his progress in physical therapy, and to provide documentation about his rehab. Will refused to go. It would only invite more questions; their story couldn’t possibly hold water in a clinic, where people must know more about accidents and their effects than schoolteachers did. He wished they could just forge the documents instead. That, however, was one lie too many, even for Mary. She and Will had come as close as they ever did to having a row.
But there were many worse questions than nagging from his school teachers. Telling his mother that his father was, in fact, dead, and that Will had not been able to bring him home despite his own absence, had been worse than anything he’d faced. His mother had gone around looking blank for hours, like she was in shock. Will had feared that she was. Then she’d started crying, and had kept on grieving for days, until her nose and eyes were red and she looked as if she’d been ill. Will bitterly regretted telling the truth. But what else could he have done? He, Kirjava and Mary had agreed that it was kinder overall to tell her, at least before Will had tried. After, of course, he wasn’t so sure. While they might be physically safer than they had been in a long time, the emotional dangers never really went away.
Kirjava pressed her soft head against Will’s palm. He stroked her the way he would stroke Moxie, who’d shown no surprise at all when Kirjava appeared in their home.
“It couldn’t be helped,” she said, through her deep, soothing purrs.
Will furrowed his brow. He was still learning what it meant to have a daemon, and to talk to his own soul and wonder how much of his mind she could read even when he wasn’t speaking aloud.
“Any of it,” Kirjava replied. “At least, we couldn’t help it, or change it.”
Will wasn’t sure he agreed. He should have told his mother about his father in gentler terms, though he’d tried so hard to be gentle. He should have had Lyra ask the alethiometer more about his father, and shielded him from the witch’s arrow - or something. Surely there were things he could have done differently?
He set his jaw, and tried to push his grief and his thoughts deep down into his being, as if through physical effort.
“Well, they can’t be changed now ,” he murmured. “So I suppose you’re right.”